A month ago today I woke up knowing I would soon be heading for Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) where a surgical oncologist would slice open my abdomen and remove part of my liver.
I’d been dreading it for weeks, with the severity of that dread ranging from waking up in a cold sweat to full on panic attacks. Ever since this whole mess started with an unexplained (at the time – I later found out the cause) pain that sent me to the emergency room back in January, I’d been filled with this awful sense of doom… when I wasn’t doubled over in pain, that is.
Many of you probably already know the story. For those that don’t, here’s the cliff notes version:
I woke up the morning of January 12th after a rough night of not enough sleep. I’d attended a work even the previous evening that ran late and as a result of that and an hour plus drive home, the sound of the alarm came only too early.
My husband got ready and left a bit before I did. We usually leave around the same time, but I was more sluggish than usual that morning. I attributed it to the late night (which included alcohol) and resolved to get a double shot of espresso on my way in to work. I was putting on my socks when I was suddenly brought to tears by a sharp, stabbing pain in my abdomen. I’m not a wuss, and not one to exaggerate, so trust me when I tell you it was intense. So intense, in fact, I called my husband and asked him to turn around and come home so he could take me to the ER.
That day sucked, quite frankly. It was full of tests and pain and not a lot of answers. At the end of it all, and after several hours, I was released with a prescription for pain killers and instructions to follow up with my primary care physician.
The weeks that followed were full of the same; tests, pain, painkillers, wash, rinse, repeat. It wasn’t until I was sent to a surgeon to check for a possible hernia that I got an actual answer… even though it wasn’t a hernia.
It was a tumor. A BIG one. About the size of a softball and it was on my liver. That excruciating pain that had initially brought me to the ER was caused by the tumor tearing through the protective sac around my liver itself. I would need surgery to remove it.
But first, we had to be sure it wasn’t cancer. Biopsies. Waiting. Pain. Fear. Doubt.
The biopsies came back clear, which was good… but I still needed surgery to remove the tumor, which was designated as precancerous. They’d also need to take my gallbladder, due to the tumor’s location, and about a quarter of my liver. Ow.
So… panic. Fear. Pain. Panic.
The day of the surgery, I held it mostly together. I got teary a few times, but I didn’t hide or run away screaming. When the nurse came in with a gown and a robe, I put them on along with my standard issue hospital socks. Then I asked to use the bathroom, even though I didn’t need to go. Instead, I closed and locked the door and leaned against it, crying for a few minutes. When I was done, I lifted up my hospital gown and gazed at my unmarred abdomen in the mirror. It felt like saying goodbye.
I don’t remember much about my time in the actual recovery room… just snatches of fuzziness here and there, nothing substantial… which is apparently a mercy, as by all accounts my recovery was rough and painful. It was well past sunset when I arrived in my hospital room to begin the actual process of recovery. I couldn’t bring myself to look beneath my hospital gown, not for days. The incision hurt, and I knew from that hurt that it would be big and ugly and it just wasn’t something I could face at the time.
Recovery is a very personal thing, it’s incredibly intimate and requires a huge amount of trust in one’s self. It’s not easy to figure out exactly how hard you can push yourself, even if pushing yourself means nothing more than walking across the floor. It’s difficult to pinpoint any kind of formula, and harder still to be patient… with your body, with yourself, with those around you who just don’t seem to understand that you CAN’T stay awake, can’t focus, can’t think, can’t do it. Even if it is just a movie on Netflix. Can’t.
Eventually I was able to bring myself to look at the wound. I had to. The nurses could only do so much without me. I had to care for it, and myself, so I had to look at it. I cried.
My road has not ended. I’m not well yet. I still have food restrictions. I’m still achingly tired all the time. My attention span is still broken into sharp little fragments of awareness that seem at odds with one another. It will be a while before I am ME again, before I can move like I used to, before I can eat like a normal person, before I can sit in our hot tub. Before I can look down at myself and not feel repulsed by that awful slice across my midsection. I hope that day comes, and that it’s not too far off.